In-person programs for people with disabilities return after COVID pause

The Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports returns after temporarily dropping in-person programs amid COVID-19.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Along Boathouse Row on Kelly Drive Friday morning, 30-year-old Frank Ganther thought about how much it meant to him to be out rowing on the water.

"It kind of seems like the best therapy for me," said Ganther, who lost the use of his legs in a fall accident as a teenager. "It's just really nice to be out on the boat in the morning with everyone else. It kind of seems like I'm just fitting in."

While Ganther fits in among the rowers along Kelly Drive, he's actually a standout at adapted rowing, a sport created to allow people with disabilities have access to rowing competitively.

Ganther competed in the Paralympic trials last week.

"He's in the Paralympic pipeline," said Jeff McGinnis, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports, which helped incorporate adapted rowing into the Paralympic games.

He adds that Philadelphia has the largest population of people with disabilities of any other large city in the country.

"This is the birthplace of adapted rowing in this country, probably in the world," said McGinnis.

But even a program that strong was no match for the COVID-19 pandemic.

"COVID completely changed our ability to deliver our program," said McGinnis.

The Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports had to temporarily drop in-person programs.

"We pivoted to offer virtual programs," said McGinnis.

But losing in-person activities also meant losing the benefits that came along with them for people with disabilities.

"Social isolation is a real thing for people with disabilities. It's very easy to get cut off from the larger community," he added.

Ganther says it was difficult because he couldn't go into the facility, but St. Joseph's University lent athletes with disabilities special equipment to utilize at home.

But now, just in time for Disability Pride Month, many of the organization's in-person programs have returned.

"We've been slowly coming out of what I call our slumber," said McGinnis.

Still, the return of in-person activities means more demand on the nonprofit.

"We live and die by community support," McGinnis said.

It's the type of support that allowed Frank to compete in the Paralympic trials.

He didn't make it to the games this time, but his coach thinks he has a strong rowing career ahead of him.

"I definitely think he has what it takes," said Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing Program head coach Liz Euiler.

Competing in the games is the eventual goal for Ganther, especially now that he's able to be involved in more in-person programs.

"It's kind of the light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

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